Following the fast tracking of talks between the Indian Defence Ministry and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation for the sale of 21 MiG-29UPG medium weight fighters, India is reportedly seeking to assemble the fighters domestically. India’s defence sector previously upgraded its air force’s MiG-29 fleet to the UPG standard with Russian support, with the country having received its first MiG-29A jets in the early 1980s and the new upgrades to avionics, sensors, engines and weaponry were considered key to keeping them viable against modern adversaries. Russia currently holds multiple unassembled MiG-29 airframes in storage, and can deliver these very promptly once a deal is concluded allowing the Indian Air Force to potentially have a new squadron ready by the end of the year. The purchase would follow a prior order for MiG-29UPG jets made early in 2019, and would bring the total size of India’s MiG-29 fleet to over 170 aircraft. Acquiring the MiG-29 is considered as a quick and cost effective way of providing the Indian Air Force with new fighter squadrons, as the service looks to induct over 10 additional squadrons into service by the end of the decade while also acquiring new fighters to replace older units being phased out of service.
The MiG-29 design is particularly prized for its excellent flight performance, with a high speed, high manoeuvrability and medium range. UPG variants are equipped with modern sensors and can deploy R-77 active radar guided long range missiles allowing them to pose a significant threat to enemy aircraft. The MiG-29UPG is considered superior to any fighter class currently in service in the Pakistani Air Force, although this could change as Pakistan begins to receive its first JF-17 Block III ‘4+ generation’ fighters sometime around 2025. Although it is currently considered India’s third most capable fighter, after the Su-30MKI heavyweight platform and the lighter Rafale jets, the Indian Defence Ministry is reportedly considering ceasing further MiG-29 acquisitions and instead moving to acquire its next generation successor the MiG-35.